If this really is Christmas for Mets fans — and, heck, it is close enough to the holidays for them to dream with the greatest aspirations — then there is going to be a second team that spends like the Yankees in town.
Steve Cohen, who is worth $13.6 billion (you know, with the “B”), according to Forbes, is in the midst of finalizing a deal to gain majority control of the Mets, the team revealed in a Wednesday press release. There is a five-year wind down mentioned in the release in which Fred Wilpon will remain the control person and CEO for the Mets and Jeff Wilpon the chief operating officer.
Cohen, who has been a minority investor in the Mets since 2012, sent an email to his investors Wednesday after the news broke to assure them that his fund is still his paramount concern and that “Cohen Private Ventures will manage my stake in the Mets as it has done since 2012.” Which means the Wilpons might actually run the team for a while yet.
But a person who had seen the email expects Cohen’s financial influence to be felt immediately, saying, “He grew up a Mets fan [in Great Neck]. He went to games in the Polo Grounds. He has deep pockets. He is a passionate fan. If I were a Met fan, I would expect that means more money [for payroll].”
He who controls the purse strings controls the kingdom — not someone with titles. And if Cohen is approved by the other owners — likely but no slam dunk because of his past ties to insider trading — he will control the purse strings.
There are no guarantees how someone will run a team and whether they will be a good owner or a bad owner once they actually are in charge. But what would shock — absolutely shock — those spoken to in the aftermath of the news that Cohen is intending to go from a minority Met owner to owning 80 percent or more of the team is that he will squeeze pennies and play to the worst of the Wilpon stereotype. The expectation is the Mets will join the Yankees and Dodgers and Red Sox among the major league payroll leaders, perhaps not in 2020, but soon.
The logic is essentially: Cohen is overpaying for the Mets because he loves baseball (he tried to buy the Dodgers in 2012, but was outbid by Guggenheim Partners) and this team. One person who knows Cohen made a comparison to Steve Ballmer, the billionaire businessman who overpaid for the Clippers because he wanted a basketball team in a major city and was willing to pay whatever was necessary. And Ballmer has opened his checkbook to upgrade the Clippers in every way. That is in a salary-cap league. There is no cap in the majors, plus this is a passion play for a lifelong fan.
“At that price valuation [$2.6 billion for the Mets] this is a vanity purchase,” the friend of Cohen said. “This is not a purchase you make at that amount to make money. You don’t make it to strip down payroll. You make it to enjoy the team you have spent your life rooting for. If I am a Mets fan, this is a big day to celebrate.”
“This should bother the Yankees because he will be playing in their league.”” — Person who has dealt with Steve Cohen
Another person who has dealt with Cohen said, “He will be smart about how he spends it, but he has deep pockets. This should bother the Yankees because he will be playing in their league.”
While denying it publicly, the Mets have spent at least the past year looking behind the scenes for a whale seeking to buy a majority stake. Saul Katz — Fred Wilpon’s brother-in-law, real estate partner and part owner of the Mets — has been wanting to divest, sources say. His children are said not to be gung-ho about having Jeff Wilpon lead the franchise into the future. It led to recognition that a messy succession was coming in which the family might splinter enough to lose control of the team.
So the Wilpons have quietly been shopping for a financial windfall and a window to keep running the team, a combination that scared off most who contemplated a purchase. But Cohen apparently wants the Mets way more than, say, the Yankees even want Gerrit Cole. And so he overpaid and agreed to have the Wilpons for five more years.
But one AL executive said to see five years as the maximum and that it could be less — that if Cohen were going to spend this much he was going to want to want to run the team sooner than later. And another executive said because it will be Cohen’s money now that is most in play, he will have, at minimum, veto power and more likely control over the direction the Mets take, maybe at some point in the coming season or next offseason at the latest.
Whenever that day comes, those who know Cohen said to expect a leader who will greatly value analytics, data and technology, as he has in running his fund. What that will mean for Brodie Van Wagenen or new manager Carlos Beltran or anyone else working for the team is a mystery. Less mysterious is the belief Cohen will use his ample fortune to finance a club that will spend both behind the scenes and on payroll at the top of the sport.
Whether that money is spent wisely will be for another day and a future evaluation. But considering what the fan base has craved — for the Mets not to be the financial stepchild of the Yankees — today is Christmas.